UN humanitarian agencies and partners are assisting hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, September 2017. WFP Photo/Saikat Mojumder
Peace is itself a human rights imperative
I am convinced, more than ever, that peace is itself a human rights imperative. Across our world, numerous crises and conflicts have erupted, involving repeated violations of the laws that protect people’s human rights even in times of public emergency and war. Medical facilities, religious sites and schools were repeatedly attacked and bombed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen. In these and other crisis areas — such as Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Lake Chad region which has suffered the attacks of Boko Haram, Mali, parts of Myanmar, Somalia, the Sudan, Ukraine and the Occupied Palestinian Territory — hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives.
Survivors have been increasingly compelled to flee, becoming exposed to heightened risk of death or further violation as they move in conditions that fail to respect human dignity, leaving children hungry, unschooled and subject to violence. Stopping these crimes against peace and ensuring redress for victims and accountability for perpetrators must be among our most urgent tasks.
Alongside bloody conflict, the past year has seen the continued deprivation of basic economic and social rights for millions of women, men and children owing to chronic poverty for some and weak governance or imposed austerity for many others. Massive inequality among genders, social groups and income levels has strained public confidence. All too often, economic and social insecurities are being blamed on “the other” — whether migrants or other racial, ethnic, gender or social groups — rather than on failures of public policy.
In this context, millions have sought refuge from armed conflict and have migrated in search of opportunities and the protection of their human rights. The death toll from attempted migration across the Mediterranean Sea has been despairingly high, with some 1,900 dead or missing by July 2017, despite fewer overall arrivals in Europe compared with 2015/16. Countless more lost their lives or went missing in other regions of the world, and suffered torture, trauma and other human rights abuses en route.
I have been distressed to see the malevolence of political discourse in many countries. Instead of taking a reasoned and cooperative approach, many leaders have fanned the growing flames of prejudice and fear which divide and weaken their societies. A wave of racism and xenophobia has swept the globe, manifest in stereotyping, racial profiling, hate speech and hate crimes. Perhaps more than ever before, the universal norms and mechanisms of human rights need our united support.
In a moment of hope for the future, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (see para. 52 above) took a strong, principled stand, with Member States committing to protect the human rights of all migrants regardless of their migratory status at all times and taking into account the specific needs of those in vulnerable situations. The Organization is supporting States in this endeavour, but greater and more consistent leadership is needed across every region.
Human rights are at the core of my call for prevention and sustaining peace
Human rights measures are the lifeblood of any effort to prevent conflict and sustain peace. They are investments which bring both immediate and long-term benefits in building resilience, redressing grievances, reducing inequality and advancing sustainable development.
This is why, in the past year, we have deployed rapid and multidisciplinary “light teams” to situations of concern in Burkina Faso, Lesotho and the Congo. The Human Rights Council established three commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions during the reporting period, on South Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic and Burundi, respectively, as well as a group of independent experts on accountability for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also deployed nine other inquiries, including on Yemen and Myanmar.
These missions conduct on-the-ground investigations and deliver fact-based impartial assessments, giving voice to the victims and drawing attention to situations of urgent global concern. Their findings and targeted recommendations lay the foundation to hold States, non-State actors and individuals accountable. Field officers also monitor and investigate allegations to prompt States to fulfil their human rights obligations, thus preventing future violations. Working with media is also essential. Most recently, during the siege and bombardment of eastern Aleppo in the Syrian Arab Republic and during hostilities in Burundi, strong, well-informed public statements helped to generate media coverage, which helped to mitigate some serious abuses and violations.
A backlash against the advancement of women’s rights has fuelled rollbacks of legislation relating to gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive rights. We must move with all deliberate speed towards greater equality, especially in terms of violence against women, conflict-related sexual abuse, trafficking and related exploitation and the pervasive discrimination that deprives millions of women of education, economic resources and reproductive rights. There must be stronger action against the recruitment and use of girls in armed conflict, including their sexual enslavement and use as suicide bombers. During the reporting period, we continued to assist countries to improve laws relating to the human rights of women and girls and agreed on frameworks for action to prevent and respond to conflict-related sexual violence and ensure accountability.
I am concerned about crackdowns abridging fundamental public freedoms — freedom of expression, opinion and peaceful assembly. The full participation of civil society is essential to making progress across all United Nations goals. Clearly, when Governments and their proxies clamp down against activists, lawyers, human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents — or scrap the guarantees of an independent judiciary — they are not acting to halt violence but are instead discrediting their own States and the trust of their own people. Denial of expression undercuts State opportunities for international cooperation and capacities to respond to real security threats and development challenges.
Alarmed by acts of intimidation and reprisals against people who engage with the United Nations on human rights issues, I have taken action to strengthen the United Nations response to such incidents. Civil society participation is essential to the work of the United Nations and that of all of our partners. My concerns have deepened over the past year regarding attacks against human rights defenders, including several individuals engaged in defending persecuted populations, indigenous peoples, minorities, women’s rights, land rights and the environment. Across the globe, peaceful human rights defenders and those acting in solidarity with them have been met with growing persecution.
The Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review process is now entering a new cycle, with every Member State scheduled for a third round of scrutiny. We will work to strengthen the relevance, precision and impact of the Council’s recommendations, including by providing better support to Member States in implementation, stronger collaboration with United Nations country teams and the establishment of national mechanisms for human rights reporting and follow-up to link the universal periodic review to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. My Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict reports annually to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly on grave crimes against children, bringing to light the dire situations these children face.
Ultimately, the 2030 Agenda offers a road map towards a more rights-respecting world. A strong focus on human rights, equality and the empowerment of women has been integrated into the revised United Nations Development Framework guidelines, while the entire United Nations system is now committed to integrating the imperative of eliminating discrimination and reducing inequalities, leaving no one behind.